Gil Evans

Ian Ernest Gilmore Green
Born May 13, 1912 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Died Mar 20, 1988 in Cuernavaca, Mexico


One of the most significant arrangers in jazz history, Gil Evans'
three album-length collaborations with Miles Davis (Miles
Ahead, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain) are all
considered classics. Evans had a lengthy and wide-ranging
career that sometimes ran parallel to the trumpeter. Like Davis,
Gil became involved in utilizing electronics in the 1970s and
preferred not to look back and recreate the past. He led his
own band in California (1933-38) which eventually became the
backup group for Skinnay Ennis; Evans stayed on for a time as
arranger. He gained recognition for his somewhat futuristic
charts for Claude Thornhill's Orchestra (1941-42 and
1946-48) which took advantage of the ensemble's cool tones,
utilized French horns and a tuba as frontline instruments and by
1946 incorporated the influence of bop. He met Miles Davis
(who admired his work with Thornhill) during this time and
contributed arrangements of "Moon Dreams" and "Boplicity" to
Davis' "Birth of the Cool" nonet.
 
After a period in obscurity, Evans wrote for a Helen Merrill session and then collaborated with Davis
on Miles Ahead. In addition to his work with Miles (which also included a 1961 recorded Carnegie
Hall concert and the half-album Quiet Nights), Evans recorded several superb and highly original
sets as a leader (including Gil Evans and Ten, New Bottle Old Wine and Great Jazz Standards)
during the era. In the 1960s among the albums he worked on for other artists were notable efforts
with Kenny Burrell and Astrud Gilberto. After his own sessions for Verve during 1963-64, Evans
waited until 1969 until recording again as a leader. That year's Blues in Orbit was his first successful
effort at combine together acoustic and electric instruments; it would be followed by dates for Artists
House, Atlantic (Svengali) and a notable tribute to Jimi Hendrix in 1974. After 1975's There
Comes a Time (which features among its sidemen David Sanborn), most of Evans' recordings were
taken from live performances. Starting in 1970 he began playing with his large ensemble on a weekly
basis in New York clubs. Filled with such all-star players as George Adams, Lew Soloff, Marvin
"Hannibal" Peterson, Chris Hunter, Howard Johnson, Pete Levin, Hiram Bullock, Hamiet Bluiett and
Arthur Blythe among others, Evans' later bands were top-heavy in talent but tended to ramble on too
long. Gil Evans, other than sketching out a framework and contributing his keyboard, seemed to let
the orchestra largely run itself, inspiring rather than closely directing the music. There were some
worthwhile recordings from the 1980s (when the band had a long string of Monday night gigs at
Sweet Basil in New York) but in general they do not often live up to their potential. Prior to his
death, Gil Evans recorded with his "arranger's piano" on duets with Lee Konitz and Steve Lacy and
his body of work on a whole ranks with the top jazz arrangers.

-- Scott Yanow, All-Music Guide